On the fringes of my Italian village is the enormous Catajo castle which has almost sleeping beauty status, having been neglected for 100 years. It went up for auction recently but there were no takers, presumably because however cheap it was, the repair bill would be 10 times more.
And then along came the prince in the form of Sergio Cervellin, a multi-millionaire and the Italian equivalent of Sir James Dyson. He was driving past in his Rolls Royce and was struck by the castle, coming back later for another look. Reader, he bought it.
I went to meet him last week to talk about his plans to restore it and open many more of its 365 rooms to the public. The gardens have been cleared and fountains are working again, the inner courtyard has stone masons at work, and two blocks of toilets are being installed inside large raised boxes so that they don’t damage floors, walls or ceilings. He reckons that the full restoration will take 10 years, and it will surely attract masses of tourists with its important frescoes, only half an hour from Venice.
Mr Cervellin doesn’t intend to live there. When I asked why he bought it, he simply replied,” To return it to its former beauty.”
It is a wonderful act of philanthropy: in England he’d surely get a knighthood.